Neighbors are like roommates you only see every once in a while, and don't have to share a bathroom with. But even the occasional encounter with someone who kind of shares your living space can bring up challenges — and our tips will help you deal with them.
Pick a good time to introduce yourself.
When you move in to a new neighborhood or building, it can be a good idea to introduce yourself to some of the neighbors. But you don't have to launch off on a meet-and-greet mission right away. I talked to Alissa Green of My First Apartment, who recommends a bit of caution:
When debating whether or not to introduce yourself to your new neighbors, first do some casual recon.
Does your neighbor seem like someone you'd want in your life? Of course, it would be wonderful to
have a great friendship with a neighbor, but there's also reason to be cautious as well.
The thing about neighbor-friends, as opposed to any other type of friends, is that your neighbor knows
where you live AND has total access to you. It's often easy to befriend a neighbor…it's not as easy
to "unfriend." You don't want someone constantly stopping by, asking you for favors, especially if it's
not a reciprocal relationship.
So if someone seems like they might want to tell you all about their conspiracy theories or ask you to walk their iguana, maybe keep things on a casual-nod-by-the-mailboxes level. But if your neighbor seems chill and worthy of getting to know, Green says, "a slow organic introduction works best." She explains,
Once you decide that your neighbor isn't crazy, a slow organic introduction works best. Say hello when you pass one another in the hall and gradually build up to a friendly conversation. Usually, it takes one person to take that leap from friendly acquaintance to friend, so after you make an introduction, feel free to get your bake on — but not before. Especially in New York, people tend to not open doors for people they don't know (and for good reason!)
And as in any first-impression situation, try to introduce yourself when you're at your best. I once met a new neighbor when one of my pupils — but not the other — had been dilated by an eye doctor, and for the rest of the time I lived in the neighborhood she took it upon herself to explain extremely basic things to me, probably assuming I was a drug-addled crazy person. She also spied on me a lot, presumably because she hoped to catch me cooking up a batch of my delicious One-Eyed Meth. Avoid situations like this by approaching your neighbors when you're feeling relaxed and in possession of all your eyeballs. And don't wait for a crisis. Says Green,
It actually took me locking myself out before I got to know my downstairs neighbor, as she nicely let me crash at her place until my boyfriend came home. But…we'd built up a nice [camaraderie] before she found me looking rather downtrodden on our shared stoop.
If your neighbor has talked to you before you're shivering on the doorstep — or yelling about your asshole super — she's more likely to help you out.
Be direct about noise.
You know that thing where your neighbors are being super-loud and you stomp on the floor or bash a broom handle into the ceiling to get them to shut up? Yeah — that doesn't work. Says Green,
Unfortunately, noisy neighbors are NOT going to understand your grunts or angry glares through the walls, which means that you'll have to take the direct approach.
Before you consider speed dialing 311, ring their bell and share your concerns. You might well be surprised by the positive outcome. If you're already on good terms with them, so much the better.
With any neighbor dispute, it's important to stay as calm as possible. Betsy Coddington of neighborhood meidation program Resolutions Northwest told MSN,
What you should not do is go stomping over there when you're really, really angry. What you can do is think about what you want to say. Think about a way you can say it that won't make the other person immediately defensive.
If a talk doesn't work, contact the proper authority.
If you've already talked to your neighbors about noise or other issues, and they refuse to change their behavior, it may be time to contact your landlord. He or she can sometimes come up with a solution that's good for everyone — Green's landlord once put down carpet in her upstairs neighbor's apartment to help muffle noise. But be aware that landlords sometimes refused to get involved in disputes between tenant — and if they do step in, their involvement can escalate a situation. Be sure you've exhausted other options with your neighbor before calling in a third party.
If you do decide to get someone else involved, and you own your home, the homeowners association is an option. Says MSN's Karen Aho, "talk to a board member for advice. Associations can restrict privileges or impose fines, and unpaid fines can potentially lead to a lien being put on the home." You can also look for a mediator through the National Association for Community Mediation. Aho says mediators can "ask questions to help both sides see the other's perspective." And Mark Kleiman, executive director of Community Mediation Services, told me mediation can "empower people to resolve their conflicts in ways that minimize the damage to their relationship. It also gives them an experience of talking, listening, analyzing and putting emotions in more appropriate context in dealing with the dispute."
Be considerate about your own noise.
Green offers this advice for apartment dwellers:
Having the cops called on your party in college often meant that your party was awesome. Alas, now that we're adults, it just means having to deal with obnoxious fines and red-tape. Save yourself the trouble by giving your neighbors the heads-up when you'll be loud, and let them know that you can turn down the volume if need be.
If you have a good relationship with your neighbors, an occasional party shouldn't be a problem, as long as it doesn't get out of hand. If you have a crappy relationship, though, a heads-up may not help — and a party may be an excuse for them to call and complain. This is a good argument for getting on good terms with your neighbors beforehand — but if that's not possible and you know they hate you, you may need to consider throwing your party at a bar instead. Or have your friends over for a cocktail hour rather than a late-night bash — as Green notes, quiet hours, at least in New York City, are between 10 PM and 7 AM.
Green also suggests, "If you use your apartment for something like band practice, try to find a time when your neighbors aren't home. Just by asking them, you'll often win them over, at least for the hour you need."
A word on the mail.
Is there anyone who lives in an apartment building and just gets their mail reliably without problems? If so, I would like to meet them so I can learn their mysterious secret. Until then, I'll have to cope with the fact that one of the realities of modern life is just sometimes not getting the shit people send me. And I'll confess, when I have failed to receive my promised packages of socks or Coffee Rio hard candies or whatever, I have sometimes suspected neighbors of swiping them. I'm not alone — a neighbor of mine recently posted a Very Angry Letter in our foyer, asking all and sundry to please quit stealing his Times. Green suggests a slightly more subtle approach:
If it's an item like a magazine, it may be worth it to leave a nice note on top of your communal mail pile (if it exists), to see if anyone has seen it (hint, hint!). Alternatively, most magazines have a customer service phone number/email for when issues haven't arrived, that will help you get a new copy.
For things like packages, if you suspect theft, you can report it to the USPS. But be aware that there are other possible reasons you didn't get your stuff — a broken mailbox, a muffed address, an unannounced return to sender. And absent a full investigation, you may want to just direct things you really care about to a more secure address. Says Green,
If you notice ANY of your mail disappearing, definitely get all packages/valuables delivered to another address. It'd be great if we could all afford doorman buildings, but we can't. Most office don't mind if you have personal mail delivered to your word address, but check with your office manager to make sure.
Alternatively, ask a nearby friend if you can ship the occasional valuable to them.
You can also request that mail be sent to you with signature confirmation required, but of course then you have to be there to get it.
Abide by the Golden Rule.
What's that old tune? Ah, yes, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you". It's kind of incredible just how much truth there is to that sentiment. The key to being a good neighbor? Just don't be a jerk.
Being a good neighbor yourself can stop a lot of problems before they start — and make it easier to solve the ones that do arise.
Image via Gunnar Pippel/Shutterstock.com